US Navy deploys warships east of Taiwan ahead of Pelosi ‘trip’

Four United States warships, including an aircraft carrier, have taken up positions in waters east of Taiwan in what the US Navy called routine deployments amid rising Chinese anger over an expected visit to the island by House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Pelosi is expected to arrive in Taipei later on Tuesday, people briefed on the matter said, as the US said it would not be intimidated by Chinese warnings against the visit of the highest ranking US official to travel to the island since 1997.

The carrier USS Ronald Reagan had transited the South China Sea and was currently in the Philippine Sea, east of Taiwan and the Philippines and south of Japan, a US Navy official told the Reuters news agency on Tuesday.

The Japan-based Reagan is operating with a guided missile cruiser, USS Antietam, and a destroyer, USS Higgins.

“While they are able to respond to any eventuality, these are normal, routine deployments,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The official, who would not comment on precise locations of the warships, said the amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli was also in the area.

Divya Gopalan, international editor of TaiwanPlus, told Al Jazeera that while the government in Taipei has not officially confirmed Pelosi’s visit, senior sources are briefing journalists on the details of the trip, including a scheduled meeting with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen.

The last visit of a senior US political figure in 1997 occurred at a time when China commanded a very different position on the world stage, Gopalan said.

Pelosi’s planned visit also comes amid deteriorating relations between Beijing and Washington, as well as strained relations between China and Taiwan, she said.

“Now Taiwan is facing a much more powerful PLA [People’s Liberation Army], which the Chinese have said is not standing idly by as Pelosi comes here, and China has also said it will take strong action. What that is is unclear,” Gopalan told Al Jazeera.

‘Entirely on Beijing’

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Beijing to “act responsibly” in the event that Pelosi proceeded with her visit to Taiwan.

“If the speaker does decide to visit, and China tries to create some kind of a crisis or otherwise escalate tensions, that would be entirely on Beijing,” Blinken told reporters at UN headquarters in New York on Tuesday.

Asked about Blinken’s remarks, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying accused the US and Taiwan of creating “provocations”. Any countermeasures China take will be “justified and necessary” in the face of Washington’s “unscrupulous behaviour,” she said.

Signs have emerged of military activity on both sides of the Taiwan Strait before Pelosi’s likely visit.

Chinese planes flew close to the median line dividing the waterway on Tuesday morning and several Chinese warships had remained close to the unofficial dividing line since Monday, a source briefed on the matter told Reuters.

China’s defence and foreign ministries did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The source said Chinese aircraft repeatedly conducted tactical moves of briefly “touching” the median line and circling back to the other side of the strait while Taiwanese aircraft were on standby nearby. The moves by China were described as provocative.

Neither side’s aircraft normally cross the median line.

The source also said three other Chinese warships on Tuesday carried out drills to simulate attacks on carrier-borne aircraft in waters east of Taiwan.

The ships had been tracked sailing through Japan’s southern islands at the weekend, the Japanese defence forces said.

Since last week, China’s PLA has conducted various exercises, including live fire drills, in the South China, Yellow and Bohai seas.

Some regional military analysts say that increased deployments at a time of tension increased the risk of accidents, even if no side wants an actual conflict.